Press release

Patterns of drug use changing, but risks remain

The new 'Shooting Up' report published today by PHE found patterns of injecting drug use are changing, but infection risk for all drug users remains high.

Syringe

Whilst heroin, on its own or in combination with crack-cocaine remains the most commonly injected drug, the number of people reporting their main injecting drug as amphetamines and amphetamine-type substances (like mephedrone), nearly tripled between 2002 and 2012. This group is also more likely to report sharing of injecting equipment, and less likely to have ever had tests for HIV or hepatitis C.

Anabolic steroid and tanning drug melanotan use also increased - in many areas ‘image and performance enhancing drug’ (IPED) users are now the largest group accessing needle and syringe programmes, outnumbering heroin and crack-cocaine users.

As a result of unsterile injecting practises and needle sharing, people who inject drugs are at risk of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The Shooting Up 2012 report found:

  • around half of people who inject psychoactive drugs have been infected with hepatitis C, and around 1 in every 100 has HIV
  • among those injecting IPEDs, 1 in 10 had been exposed to one or more of HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • a reduction in hepatitis B infection, probably due to increased vaccine uptake and a decline in equipment sharing

Presenting the findings at the Society for the Study of Addiction annual scientific symposium today, Dr Vivian Hope, a Public Health England (PHE) expert in infections among people who inject drugs, said:

In the UK, we’re seeing growing use of image and performance enhancing drugs and signs of a recent increase in the injection of ‘club’ drugs and amphetamine-type stimulants. These changes could impact on our public health success in controlling HIV and hepatitis B among people who inject drugs, such as the proportion of people who inject drugs ever infected with hepatitis B falling from 29% in 2002 to 17% in 2012.

The potential impact of the changing patterns of drug use must be explored, and the implications for research, service provision and harm reduction carefully considered.

Dr Fortune Ncube, Consultant Epidemiologist and lead for PHE on Injecting Drug Use said:

Viruses don’t discriminate. We must maintain and strengthen public health interventions focused on reducing injection-related risk behaviours to prevent HIV and hepatitis infections among all drug users.

This includes ensuring easy access for those who inject image and performance enhancing drugs to voluntary confidential testing services for HIV and hepatitis, as well as to appropriate sterile injecting equipment through needle and syringe programmes.

Ends

Notes to editors

  1. Dr. Vivian Hope was speaking at the Society for the Study Addiction Annual Scientific Symposium in York.
  2. Read the Shooting Up - infections among people who inject drugs in the United Kingdom 2012 report.
  3. PHE’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. www.gov.uk/phe Follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk

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Photo above by Hitthatswitch on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Published 8 November 2013